Participate response to the Open Working Group ‘Focus Area Document’

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On 14 March 2014, Participate responded to the Open Working Group (OWG) Focus Area Document, urging members to listen to the voices of those living in greatest poverty and to ensure that the words ‘leave no-one behind’ become enshrined in the post-2015 agenda.

In 2013, Participate and its partners carried out research in which people were simply asked to tell their stories and talk about what was important to them. Given the open-ended nature of the research, with such a diverse range of people, their perspectives on development were remarkably consistent. The research  produced detailed insights into a vast array of development issues facing the poorest and most marginalized. The following critique of the ‘Focus Area Document’ is based on that research.

Focus area 1 – Poverty Eradication:  We strongly support the focus on poverty eradication, and the recognition that poverty is multi-dimensional. However we think that this commitment is contradicted by other focus areas within the OWG framework such as  ‘economic growth’, which our evidence shows does not benefit the poorest. The consistent conclusion across all 18 studies was that those living in greatest poverty have not benefited significantly from the MDG’s, that trickle down doesn’t reach the very poorest, and that a much more holistic approach to development which focuses on the multiple overlapping hardships which can spiral people further and further into poverty needs to be constructed.

Focus areas 3 and 4 – Health and Education: We know that people living in poverty value health and education highly. But because people are poor and marginalized, they cannot benefit from these services that might help them and their families find ways out of poverty. Access is limited by a lack of basic livelihoods and by discriminatory institutions, discriminatory local social norms and power relations which divert resources away from those in need.

Focus areas 5 and 12 Gender equality and women’s empowerment and equality: We believe that targets generically focused on institutional discrimination and changes in discriminatory social norms, attitudes and behaviours need to be built explicitly into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework. Gender and inequality was shown to be persistent and endemic across all the studies. Traditional forms of exclusion against, for example people with disabilities, indigenous people and sexual minorities continue while new forms of discrimination, for example, against the elderly are emerging.

Focus areas 8, 9 and 10: While we recognize the importance of infrastructure development such as house building programmes and clean water and sanitation facilities, our research shows that economic growth, industrialisation and infrastructure development are producing greater inequalities. In other words, the price of better infrastructure for people with low incomes and the growing middles class is that the very poor become even more marginalized.  One clear example is the way in which slum clearance pushes people to the edge of cities where they no longer have secure livelihoods.

Focus area 11 – Employment and Decent work for all: While we agree that broadening the base of formal jobs is important, most of the poorest live by subsistence and through the informal economy. Development needs to support the informal economy and also support transitions from the informal into the formal economy. We think that this goal should focus on ‘livelihoods’ and decent work for all.

Focus Area 15 – Climate Change: We were struck by the Ghana Community Radio Network research which showed communities ravaged by climate change, mass migration into the cities leading to villages populated only by women and children (increasingly only grandparents and children). For many poor communities climate change is now seen as a priority.

Focus area 18 – Means of implementation: The discussion on the means of implementation needs to be substantially broadened. People living in poverty and marginalization need a development approach which is responsive to their needs and to their articulation of their rights. This requires a participatory approach to decision making at local and national level. Systems need to be built which ensure participation in the conception, design, implementation and evaluation stages of any development initiatives. This cannot be seen as something that comes after the development framework is set. It has to be embedded within it and seen as an integral part of it.

Focus area 19 – Peaceful and non-violent societies, capable institutions: One of the things that is most striking about the Participate work is the priority that was given to issues of governance. People were concerned with how institutions operate and the extent to which resources are diverted away from the poor as a result of poor governance, corruption or local power. People called for access to justice and for meaningful participation about the decisions in their lives.

Participate’s proposed foundational targets:

Drawing on core messages that arise repeatedly from our research, Participate believes that there are further focus areas that need to be addressed for sustainable positive change in the lives of the poorest and most marginalised. Key targets that enable change need to be included, and can fit within a range of goal areas. Without them, we cannot reach our aspiration to ‘leave no-one behind.’

(1) Efforts to enhance citizenship and participation allowing young people, women and other excluded people’s to articulate their own needs at all stages of decision making processes from articulation of the issues, to design, to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation

(2) Interventions to directly tackle discriminatory social norms and power relationships which exclude. These are seen to be the main causes of poverty and marginalisation. Services and opportunities exist, but the poorest and most marginalised don’t get access to them for these reasons.

(3) Support people in making secure the livelihoods that are realistically available to them. This means supporting the informal economies that keep the poorest and most marginalised alive.


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